Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Eve On Ice

Began the last day of 2017 with my traditional Sunday breakfast. Made Mint Chocolate Chip Pancakes. They didn't come out as well as I had hoped. I burned part of one, and I made them a tad too big. I couldn't finish part of the second one.

Watched Holiday Inn as I made my meal and got ready for work. Singer Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) thinks he's happily retiring to a farm after his former partner Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) and girlfriend Lilah (Virginia Dale) claim they want to continue in show business. What Jim discovers is he and his housekeeper Mamie (Louise Beavers) can't run the farm alone. Instead, he turns it into an inn and nightclub that's only open on holidays. The first performer he hires is Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), whom he met in the city when she delivered flowers to Ted and Lilah. On New Year's Eve, Ted shows up at Holiday Inn, plastered after Lilah left him. He dances with Linda, but he was so gone, he doesn't remember her. The dancer and his slightly smarmy agent Danny (Walter Abel) spend a month looking for Linda...and when they finally find her on Valentine's Day, Jim finds himself competing with his partner for a girl all over again.

I traditionally watch this one on New Year's Eve. Since it covers most major holidays, it makes a nice summing-up of the holiday season and the year in general. I actually prefer this to the shinier White Christmas. It has the better score (it introduced "White Christmas" and "Happy Holidays") and fewer of the romantic comedy contrivances that bog down the later movie.

Put on Yogi Bear's All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper while getting cleaned up from breakfast. Actually, the title is a bit of a misnomer. The "all-star" cast of Hanna Barbara's more beloved funny animals only appear briefly in the beginning and end of this special. Yogi and Boo Boo are the real stars. They somehow end up in the city, where Yogi dresses in a Santa suit and winds up helping a little girl whose rich father is neglecting her during the holidays.

Did a couple of Popeye shorts themed around nightclubs or New Year's as I got ready for work. Bluto keeps annoying Popeye and Olive as they perform their own dance act in "Morning, Noon, and Nightclub." Popeye uses spinach to turn the tables. He's saying "Let's Celebrake" when he takes Olive's grandma out with him, Olive, and Bluto to attend a New Year's Eve dance contest. Spinach gives Grandma the vitality to keep jitterbugging.

Work was a royal pain in the rear. The manager told me to do the bathrooms right when I got in. They didn't really need to be done. All they needed was a few rolls of toilet paper. And all this while insanely long lines snaked around the front of the store.

The second time I had to go to the bathroom, I didn't realize the other bagger on duty had to go, too. We were both called outside, when we were only inside for five minutes.

The Eagles didn't do much better than I did. Their third-string couldn't get anything going against the Cowboys and ended their regular season with a 6-0 loss in a dull, frustrating game. (At least they have an extra week to rest before they start the playoffs.)

I couldn't have been happier to get out of there. I hurried home, changed into jeans (we're allowed to wear Eagles jerseys to work - Acme Markets sponsors the Eagles), grabbed my lemon cake, and rushed off to Dad and Jodie's house.

They were busy when I arrived. Rose rocked a chubby-cute Finley while chatting with Dana and one of the moms. Jodie filled three plates with food - part of an Italian hoagie, potato salad, cole slaw, baked barbecue chicken and ribs, macaroni and cheese. Along with my cake, there were Rose's delicious Cherry Cookies and leftover fudge, cheesecake, and mini-sticky buns from Christmas Day. Khai and his buddies Chloe, Bree, Mary, and Emily were in the den, playing with Barbies and the toy train and watching Ice Age: The Meltdown.

After the kids and moms left, I curled up in Jodie's big, soft chair in the living room and watched the late-day games with Dad, Jodie, Jessa, and a just-arriving Joe. The Miami Dolphins-Buffalo Bills game got very ugly, including a brawl in the fourth quarter that ended with two Dolphins getting ejected. While the Dolphins did manage to do better in the second half, the Bills still won 22-16. The Baltimore Ravens tried even harder against the Cincinatti Bengals, but the Bengals managed to get a last-minute touchdown that won them the game 31-27 and knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs. The Bills will be going to the postseason for the first time since 1999, breaking the longest postseason dry spell in any major league sport.

Jessa and Joe ended up driving me home around 8. I left the bike at Dad and Jodie's. They say they're going to drive me for a lot of the week while the temperatures are below freezing. I'll pick up the bike on Tuesday.

Ran a few cartoons as I got settled down for the night on the laptop. Max & Ruby did a sweet post-Christmas/New Year's episode. "Ruby's Gingerbread House" refuses to stand, no matter how much royal icing they apply to it. Max wants them to consider the merits of his gummy worms. Ruby is taking down the Christmas decorations in "Max's Christmas Passed," but Max finds a way to cheer his sister up and extend their holidays. Grandma and Ruby are enjoying dancing and fizzy drinks on "Max's New Year." He just wants to eat Grandma's clock-shaped cookies at midnight.

Charlie Brown's not having as pleasant of a holiday in Happy New Year, Charlie Brown! He has to somehow do a book report on War and Peace during Christmas vacation. He goes between struggling with the book and struggling with asking The Little Red-Haired Girl to Peppermint Patty's party. Meanwhile, Marcie and Peppermint Patty think Chuck's going to ask them, and Lucy's not-so-patiently waiting for Schroeder to ask her.

Rudolph's Shiny New Year has the baby reindeer with the bright-red nose searching for another famous baby. Happy, the baby New Year, has run away. He's upset that people keep laughing at his big ears. Rudolph and a motley assortment of characters go after him to show that his ears are nothing to be ashamed of.

The first fireworks could be briefly seen as I began Star Wars: A New Hope. Desert farmer Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) longs for fabulous adventures beyond the dusty backwater planet where he was raised. He gets more action than he bargained for when the two droids his uncle bought turn out to have a message for former Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) from Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). She's been captured by the tyrannical Empire, ruled by intimidating Darth Vader and icy General Tarkin (Peter Cushing). Kenobi reveals that Luke's father was also a Jedi, and that he too has the power to become one. They hire cynical pirate Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his hairy buddy Chewbacca (Peter Mahew) to take them to Alderaan. It turns out that their destination is no more, destroyed by the massive weapon the Death Star, which is also where Leia's being held. The pirate and the hopeful farmer have to rescue the sassiest princess in the galaxy, then keep Vader from blowing the Rebellion to heck and gone.

The Empire Strikes Back begins three years later. The Rebels are now sequestered on Hoth, a planet of snow and ice that's almost as cold as Oaklyn right now. Though Han claims he has debts to pay, his real interest is in flirting with a seemingly disinterested Leia...until the Empire arrives. Han takes off with Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), while Luke heads to swampy Dagobah with R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) to find the wise Jedi master Yoda. Far from being your typical "great warrior," Yoda is a little green guy with a goofy voice and an odd sense of humor (voice of Frank Oz). Luke does finally get a reluctant Yoda to train him, even as Han and Leia flirt and banter their way across the galaxy in the perpetually breaking-down Millennium Falcon. The duo think they'll be able to continue their romance in Cloud City, home of Han's buddy Lando Calarissian (Billy Dee Williams). Vader, determined to get his hands on Luke and his power, uses them as bait to trap the impetuous knight-in-training, setting up for an intense showdown with one hell of a final revelation...

Even with all the fussing over Last Jedi, I'm still a Star Wars fan and probably always will be. Empire is my favorite movie of all time. While I'm not nearly as fond of it, New Hope has its moments, especially during Princess Leia's rescue. If you want to see where it all began, grab your favorite version and enjoy a trip to a galaxy far, far away.

Leia was just telling Han that she'd rather kiss a Wookie than him when I heard the first noisy pops and saw the first flashes of gold across the creek. I sipped my whipped syllabub and watched the fireworks go off all around me from the safety of my front living room window.

Here's hoping that all of you have a safe and happy 2018, no matter what galaxy you're celebrating in.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Snow Day at the Malls

A rather nice little snow shower was leaving a thin layer of fluffy whiteness on my porch when I got up this morning. Warmed up a cold morning with some baking. The pistachio cake from Julie's Cooking Studio became lemon cake. Replaced the club soda with sparkling lemonade soda and added lemon gelatin and lemon zest.

Ran The Care Bears Movie to brighten a cold morning while I baked. The Care Bears first prove to a pair of unhappy orphan twins that not every friend they have will leave them. They have less luck with another orphan, a boy living with a neglectful magician. The kid finds an old magic book that's possessed by an evil spirit. The spirit convinces him that no one wants to be his friend and gets him to cast spells that will end all caring in the world..and destroy Care-a-Lot in the process. A glitch on their new travel computer device lands several bears and the twins in the Forest of Feelings, home of the Care Bear Cousins (who are every animal but bears). Now the entire crew has to get down to Earth and convince the kid that the spirit is more trouble than it's worth, and there are easier ways to make friends than hurting them or forcing them.

For all the continuity problems and so-so songs, this is surprisingly dark for a Care Bears film. Kids who grew up with this movie recall that spirit as being one of the scariest villain of any 80's animated movie. While I still recommend this for young kids, they'll need a hand to hold during many of the spookier scenes.

The snow was slowing down when Jessa picked me up around 11. After stopping briefly at the Collingswood PNC Bank so I could deposit my Christmas money from Dad in the ATM machine, we headed off to the big Deptford Target. Probably thanks to the weather, they were busy, but not nearly to the degree that the Cherry Hill Target was earlier in the month. I finally picked up the DVDs for Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, along with Yogi Bear's All-Star Christmas Caper. Found the most adorable little stuffed reindeer in a knitted snowflake scarf for 75% off in the seasonal aisles. Also grabbed the two-pack of Secret deodorant that's relatively cheap there and a container of chocolate sprinkles. (I used up the last of mine on the Merry Christmas Molasses Cookies.)

Jessa and I had lunch at Don Pablo's, the Mexican restaurant in the Target parking lot. We sat next to their elegant fountain and enjoyed our tacos. I had slightly dry fish tacos with tons of shredded cabbage, rice, avocado slices, and yummy sweet spoonbread. (A cornmeal pudding. Mom used to make the best spoonbread.) Jessa was braver and tried the Buffalo Chicken Tacos.

Spent the next couple of hours in the Deptford Mall. Despite the snow having ended somewhere around 12:30 (it was gone by the time we got out of Don Pablo's), they were still pretty mobbed. I bought a new pair of flannel pajamas with a cute blue owl print, new work pants, and warm red Airsoles slippers at Boscov's. Bath and Body Works was having massive sales. Jess and I both picked up soap. I couldn't resist a scent called "Boardwalk." Browsed in The Disney Store, Spencer's, Game Stop, and Box Lunch (a pop culture knick-knacks store that's basically a more elegant Spencer's). Peeked at a Build-a-Bear booth and poked around a booth selling calendars. I bought a Susan Branch Calendar for the hallway to write down appointments and birthdays and a Star Wars: The Last Jedi calendar for my bedroom.

Since it was only about 3 when we got out and the clouds were starting to break up, we made one last final stop at Toys R' Us. They were busy, though not to the degree of the Deptford Mall. Unlike Target and the Disney Store, whose Star Wars sections had mostly been decimated, Toys 'R Us still had a pretty good selection. I ended up with a 12-inch Poe Dameron and Cassian Andor to go with my Rey and Jyn. (The Cassian doll, stiff as he is, is actually a pretty good likeness of Diego Luna. I'll likely keep him. The Poe doll, however, looks nothing like Oscar Issac. I'll only keep him until I can find something better.)

Toys 'R Us also sells American Girl items now, though only the Wellie Wishers and and modern dolls and their things. Didn't get anything today, but it's something to keep in mind if I ever do want anything from those lines.

It was actually sunny out by the time Jessa dropped me off at home. I spent the rest of the evening writing. As they head off, BB asks Maz why Sir Kylo Ren hates his uncle so much. Maz says Kylo Ren is upset because he was neglected as a child, and his uncle did some wrong things to him. BB can't believe that...but Maz points out that everyone makes mistakes, even the people we admire. It's what makes us human.

Didn't break for dinner until past 7. I had leftover Italian meatball soup, then made lemon buttercream icing for the lemon cake while watching Wakko's Wish. This Animaniacs movie takes us to the unfortunate village of Acme Falls, which has been taxed into poverty by the evil king Salazar and his tax collectors Von Plotz and his cop minion. Wakko Warner wants to earn money for his sister Dot's operation, but Von Plotz takes it. A fairy overhears his pleas and insists that he can make a wish on a fallen wishing star. Unfortunately, the Warner siblings tell the rest of the town, and now everyone in the entire massive Animaniacs cast is on their way to that star to make all their dreams come true.

Ended the night after a shower with this summer's Wonder Woman. Diana (Gail Gadot) was raised on the all-Amazon Paradise Island by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson). Diana has never seen a man, only tough women like her mentor Antiope (Robin Wright). It comes as quite a shock when she rescues pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). She's never seen a man before. But with Steve's arrival comes the Germans to attack their island. The year is 1918, and the world is at war. Turns out Steve is a spy for the Allies who is trying to track down the German general Lundendorf (Danny Huston), whose chemist (Elena Anaya) is developing a more deadly mustard gas. Diana believes the god Ares is the cause of the war and is determined to stop him and end all the suffering. Steve's boss Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) insists that they stop the Germans before they release the mustard gas on the Western Front. Under the name Wonder Woman, Diana proves to Steve and to everyone that, male or female, we all have our own choices make, one that can effect those around us for good or for evil.

I absolutely loved this. I do wonder why it was pushed back to World War I, rather than the original World War II. (Maybe they just wanted to do something different.) Otherwise, this was incredible. I loved how strong all the women were in this film, even the ones who weren't fighting, like the very funny Etta Candy (Lucy Davis). I loved Diana more at home among the people on the Western Front than the snooty officials who thought they knew how a war should go and a woman should behave. I loved how it was her happy memories of Steve that effected her final decision.

If you're a fan of this character, the DC Universe, historical action films, or just a good superhero movie, you absolutely must see this. Highly recommended.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Once Upon a December

The day remains sunny and bitterly cold. It was a good morning for some baking after breakfast. I decided to put the last of the coconut to good use and turn Alton Brown's Old School Muffins into very moist Pineapple-Coconut Muffins. Yum, did they turn out well. The only thing I kind of wish I'd done was maybe adding a little vanilla for slightly additional flavor, Otherwise, this was very sweet, moist, and tropical.

Watched the 1997 Anastasia while I baked. Orphan Anya (Meg Ryan) has come to St. Petersburg (Lenningrad) to catch a train to Paris and find her family. Con-men Dimintri (John Cusak) and Vladmir (Kelsey Grammer) have been auditioning young women to play the part of Anastasia, the lost princess of the Romanovs. Feisty Anya fits the bill perfectly. They travel to Paris to show her off to the Grand Dowager Duchess (Angela Landsbury) and her companion Sophie (Bernadette Peters). The Romanovs, however, were cursed by the wicked monk Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd), before he died during their escape. He's so determined to see his curse through, he comes back from the grave to make sure Anya and her gentlemen friends never get to Paris...and then take care of them after they arrive.

Ok, so yeah, the history is is about as realistic as your average Disney movie, and the constantly-falling-apart Rasputin is just gross. This is still my second-favorite Don Bluth film after The Secret of Nimh. Anya is one of my favorite heroines from any non-Disney animated film, spirited, funny, and intelligent. The music by Lynn Aherns and Stephan Flahtery is so fabulous, I begged for the soundtrack for Christmas 1997 and have had the CD ever since. "At the Beginning" was the radio hit and "Journey to the Past" got the Oscar nomination, but I've always loved the haunting "Once Upon a December." The animation is downright amazing, especially the train wreck and the finale with the flying statues.

For older grade-school princesses on up who can handle the violence and the wonky history, this remains a really enjoyable Russian fairy tale.

Headed out shortly after Anastasia ended. Work wasn't too bad when I got in, to the point where I was able to finish what little needed to be cleaned in the bathrooms. After that...bedlam again. We're supposed to get less than one inch of snow tomorrow, but people still panicked. Not to mention, we're getting closer to the beginning of the month and New Year's Eve. I mostly bagged...until the manager sent me outside to do carts about 10 minutes before my break. It ended up being 40 minutes late. After that, things slowed down considerably. I spent the rest of the time inside, bagging and doing the indoor trash.

Jessa came up to my line while I was bagging. She occasionally shops at the Acme when she visits Dad and Jodie. Did I want to get together with her tomorrow? Sure! I was going to hit up one of the malls anyway. We opted to repeat last year's post-Christmas trip to the big Deptford Target and Deptford Mall.

My schedule next week is a little frustrating, but it could have been worse. In good news, I continue to have more hours. In bad news, I work New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, and I'll miss most of the Eagles game again. I should get off early enough to spend at least a little time at Dad and Jodie's house New Year's Eve. Only one day off, but at least it's a nice, normal Thursday when I can get some things done. (And no 8 hour days this time!)

Most of my groceries were for my New Year's Eve treats and New Year's Day dinner. Picked up a small sliced ham, red potatoes, and onions for Crock Pot Ham and Potatoes, sparkling grape juice in a glass bottle and heavy cream for Whipped Syllabub, brownie cookies from the bakery clearance shelves, and the Acme's generic sparkling lemonade to use in Lemon Cake. Two grapefruit were cheaper than oranges. Restocked skim milk, apples, herbal tea (had an online coupon for Celestial Seasonings - got their peppermint), peanut butter, crushed pineapple, mushrooms, and floss (the Acme's brand was buy one, get one).

Ran a few episodes of She-Ra while I got organized and had leftovers for dinner. Anastasia and last night's Willow put me in the mood for fantasy. Adora and Bow find themselves in an "Enchanted Castle" after helping an old lady on the road. The castle is ruled by an evil sorceress who derives her powers from a blue fire. They have to figure out how to put the fire out, and who that old woman really is. Even head bad guys can go on vacation in "Horde Prime Takes a Holiday." The head of the Horde leaves his prized flagship in the skeletal hands of Hordak, who promptly uses it to attack She-Ra and the Rebels...and then loses it to Skeletor. Good thing He-Man is visiting and can help his sister out.

Worked on writing for a little while afterwards. BB is delighted to discover Officer Solo's big dog Chewbacca is also in Toyland. Here, he was once owned by Han Shaftoe, but now stays with Maz and the gypsies. Maz also throws out some cryptic hints that Han may not be as dead as everyone believes...

Finished out the night with Footlight Parade, my favorite of the early 30's Busby Berkley musicals. James Cagney headlines this unique spin on put-on-a-show. Here, it's "put on a prologue" - that is, the short musical numbers that often played in larger movie theaters during the Depression to draw in crowds. Cagney is Chester Kent, a producer of prologues who has been working himself into exhaustion creating new and exciting ideas for musical routines, only to see them stolen by a rival company. His secretary Nan (Joan Blondell) does her best to keep things moving, despite threats from his ex-wife (Renee Whitney) and a gold-digging friend (Claire Dodd). The producer's wife (Ruth Donnelly) insists on him hiring her latest protege...which actually works out pretty well, since he's a fine singer and dancer (Dick Powell). A former secretary returning to dancing (Ruby Keeler) works even better. But when his ideas continue to turn up at the other company, Chester insists on everyone, including his whiny choreographer (Frank McHugh) working in secrecy on three of the biggest numbers ever seen in prologues (or film).

Cagney (in his first musical role) and the relatively unusual setting elevate this typical Berkley at Warners outing. While the music isn't quite as good as some of the other Warners 30's movies, the cast, a fast-paced and funny script, and the numbers more than make up for it. "By a Waterfall" has  Keeler and the chorus girls put through a staggering water ballet that makes some of the later Esther Williams romps look like kiddie games. "Shanghai Lil" is rescued by Cagney as a dancing sailor and some interesting camera work in the finale. (Keeler's a bigger problem here - she's no one's idea of an Asian temptress.)

Definately worth looking around for if you're a fan of the cast or the Busby Berkley 30's musicals.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Sooner or Later, She Always Gets Her Man

Started off another freezing morning at work. It was...kind of boring. I was by myself for my entire shift. The other bagger who was supposed to work with me was the one who quit on Christmas Eve. We may not have needed him anyway. The older women who were managing early today pretty much just said "do what you usually do." I put away returns, gathered the front end trash, checked the bathrooms (they were fine), and rounded up carts and baskets.

It was too cold to linger after work. I went straight home. Besides, I had a package waiting for me. The second part of my order had arrived! I ordered two Star Wars books. I've mostly been trying to stay away from the original Expanded Universe, unless Han and/or Leia were exclusively involved. I know it has quite a few fans, but it ultimately got too complicated for my tastes, with too much going on and far too many characters to keep track of. I do have fond memory of the books that more-or-less launched the Expanded Universe, the Thrawn Trilogy. I was able to find Heir to the Empire and Dark Force Rising at used book sales, but the third one continued to elude me. Finally gave up and bought The Last Command from Amazon.

They finally put out a Shakespearean version of The Force Awakens in October, The Force Doth Awakenth. I had to have it. I loved the versions of the Original Trilogy I bought from Amazon last year. There's ones for the Prequels, too. Maybe with tax return money or for my birthday.

Went right into writing when I got home. Maz Kantana, the head of the Takodana gypsy clan, is able to frighten the Living Trees with fire, enough to get them to release their captives. She takes them back to the gypsies' camp. Her clan have Snap, Poe, and Rose in their custody. Snap reveals that Sir Kylo Ren has accused Poe of stealing the sheep. Poe says they won't solve the real mystery until they can actually find the sheep. Maz reveals that Barnaby is keeping them at his Crooked Castle.

Broke for dinner at 6:30. Ran a couple of public domain fairy tale cartoons as I made scrambled eggs with escarole. Mr. Piper was a series of limited-animation shorts from the early 60's that had a jolly live-action gentleman introduce stories based after Arabian Knights stories and lesser-known fairy tales. My favorites included "The Kindhearted Girl," a variant on "Baba Yaga," which had a young girl escape from her wicked aunt by treating everything in her household kindly. "The Proud Princess" is basically the Hans Christian Anderson story "The Swineheard." A prince gives a beautiful princess a rose and a songbird. The princess, however, is so vain and materialistic, she rejects the gifts as too simple. He dresses as a swineheard and offers her gifts...if she'll kiss him. "Brave Molly" is "Molly Whuppie." Molly may be small, but she's clever enough to rescue her sisters and the queen from an evil giant.

Did two Little Audrey shorts that also involved fantasy as I cleaned up from dinner. "Goosey Goosey Gander" has Audrey in school, complaining that Mother Goose rhymes aren't as cool as her gangster comics. She dreams herself into a modern Mother Goose world...but the gangsters somehow follow and wreck havoc. "Tarts and Flowers" takes her to Cake Land, where she helps the gingerbread boy rescue his angel food cake bride from the devil's food cake.

Finished the night after a shower with Dick Tracy. Audrey's not the only one enamored with the world of kooky gangsters in bright-colored suits. Dick (Warren Beatty) is a square-jawed cop who is determined to clean up some of the strangest-looking criminals this side of the Batman comics. His girl Tess Trueheart (Glenne Hedley) wishes he'd just settle down. His main target is Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino), who organizes all the syndicates in the city, while promoting chanteuse Breathless Mahoney (Madonna). Breathless would be willing to testify against him, if Dick was a little more interested in her. There's also the little street urchin who helps Dick on several occasions, to the point where he more-or-less adopts him. But someone on the streets is determined to bring both Dick and Big Boy down, leading to an explosive confrontation on New Year's Eve.

Worth seeing for the eye candy alone. There's no movie that looks quite like this one. It strives to be as comic-book as possible, with mugs dressed in every color of the rainbow and sporting faces that belong on a rack of masks at Halloween. No wonder this movie won well-deserved Oscars for its Art Direction and Makeup. I'm fond of the Stephan Sondheim songs as well. "Sooner or Later" won another Oscar, but my favorite is the touching ballad "What Can You Lose?"

Unfortunately, that makeup hides quite a few cameos. Celebrities ranging from Dick Van Dyke to Catherine O'Hara to Paul Sorvino are virtually unrecognizable. Another flaw really can't care much about most of these characters. Tracy being basically a loyal block of wood probably comes off better in the comics than he does here. Beatty's flat performance doesn't help. Pacino and Madonna are far better as the over-the-top mob boss and the singer who would rather have Tracy than her grotesque bosses.

If you're a big fan of comic book movies, Sondheim, or the cast, this is absolutely worth checking out.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

I've Got My Movies to Keep Me Warm

Started off a sunny morning with breakfast and more Backyardigans. Did "Cave Party" in honor of our chilly weather. Tasha and Austin are cave kids having the world's first get-together to howl at the moon. Fellow cave dwellers Uniqua, Pablo, and Tyrone have to invent ways across the snow to get to their cave. Meanwhile, Tasha and Austin invent things to do when they arrive.

"Race Around the World" has Austin competing against Uniqua, Pablo, and Tyrone to run, snowboard, kayak, and hike around the world. The other kids already have gold medals, but Austin proves it's just important to be prepared and have the things you'll need for your trip.

Work was infinitely easier than yesterday. While I did some returns when I got in and spent the last hour gathering carts, I mostly bagged. Even that wasn't difficult. We really weren't that busy. Most people are out of town, still resting up from Christmas, or waiting for the beginning of the month next week.

The first packages of my Christmas order had arrived just as I was leaving. It was my new brown New Balance sneakers. I hadn't realized they were suede. I'll have to wear my winter boots on rainy days, then.

Spent the next few hours writing. Poe, Kaydel, Jill Phasma, and Jack Hux arrive to try to save Rey and BB from the Living Trees, but they wind up being captured, too. They're in dire straits when a little old woman in brightly patterned clothes arrives. She strikes a match, creating the one thing the Trees fear - fire. They're so frightened, they release their victims. The gypsy is Maz "Floretta" Kantana, the head of the Takodana gypsy clan. She agrees to take them to her camp, where the other gypsies will help them find Kaydel's sheep.

Broke for dinner at 6. I was inspired to try something different by someone who mentioned they were having soup for dinner at work. I wanted to use up the last of the chicken broth, and I'd already taken out ground turkey. I made Italian Meatball Soup, with escarole, broccoli, carrots, and onions. Yum. It came out pretty well, flavorful and hearty for a cold day.

Ran Oklahoma! while the soup cooked. This is the original film version of my favorite Rogers and Hammerstein musical. Curly (Gordon MacRae), a cheeky cowboy, wants to ask farmer Laurey (Shirley Jones) to the box social that night, but she's already going with menacing Judd Fry (Rod Steiger). Meanwhile, flirtatious Aldo Annie (Gloria Grahame) has to choose between another cowboy, Will Parker (Gene Nelson), and a peddler (Eddie Albert) who's been making overtures to her that he doesn't mean. Laurey really loves Curly and only went with Judd because she wanted to make her beau jealous, but it backfires in a spectacular way when Judd becomes dangerously obsessed with her.

Slightly stagy but still enjoyable version of the beloved musical. MacRae is a tad stiff as Curly, but Steiger is a wonderfully dark Judd, Grahame is hilarious as the indecisive Annie, and we have Charlotte Greenwood as salty Aunt Eller.

Finished out the night with the fantasy film Willow. The title character (Warrick Davis) is the member of a race of little people who wants to be a magician. He isn't very good, mostly sticking to parlor tricks. He learns more about real magic when his children find a baby who turns out to be the princess of a far-away land. He must journey to this land to return her, aided by a sarcastic thief (Val Kilmer) and two hilarious brownies.

A long-time family favorite we used to see a lot on cable in the late 80's - early 90's. Kilmer and Davis play off each other well as the roguish womanizer and devoted father, and the brownies are hysterical. Highly recommended for fans of sword-and-sorcery fantasy.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Chilled Adventure

Began a bitterly cold morning with my first early work day in months. It did not go well. I did do carts and gathered baskets and the indoor trash, but I was mostly cleaning either the bathrooms, or wiping down shelves after Christmas decorations and items were taken down. If one manager wasn't giving me an order, another was telling me to do something else.

I couldn't get out of there fast enough. There was a cute Christmas kitten gift bag on my front porch to cheer me up when I got home. It was a late Christmas gift from Miss Willa and Richard. They make the best Christmas candy bark. I was glad to see a bag of chocolate-covered biscotti and petit fours, too. I gave away all my Christmas goodies.

Put the cookies and candy away, changed, and headed out for what was likely my last laundry session of the year. The place was packed with families doing their loads from yesterday, but it couldn't be helped. I had to get it done. At least I didn't have a big load. I worked on story notes and ignored General Hospital and Action News.

Did a little bit of writing when I got home. Rey storms off into the Forest of No Return after the other kids take too long deciding who will go first. BB goes after her. They discover how the forest gained its name when they're lifted into the air by two living trees, who definitely don't want humans in their realm!

Did a snow-themed Backyardigans episode during my leftovers dinner in honor of the cold day. Pablo is pretending to be "The Yeti," who eats raisins and lives in igloos in the frozen north. Uniqua keeps insisting that the Yeti is real. Tasha claims that there's no such thing. Tyrone just wants to keep the bickering pair moving towards that strange sound.

Finished the night off after a shower with my favorite Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. After a short opening segment depicting how the young Indy (River Phoenix) became a globe-trotter, we go into the main story. The adult Indiana (Harrison Ford) learns that his father Professor Henry Jones (Sean Connery) has disappeared while searching for the Holy Grail. Though he at first partners with a young scholar (Alison Doody) and a businessman who is interested in medieval lore (Julian Glover), they both turn out to be far less trustworthy than they seem. It's up to Indy, Professor Jones, Indy's good friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davis), and bumbling museum owner Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) to find the Grail and make sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

I love this movie mainly because Ford and Connery play off each other so beautifully as father and son. Indy has far more fun with him than he does with any of his female partners, including Marion. There's a lot of great moments, too, from the opening chase on the circus train to the "no ticket" incident on the zeppelin to the actual search for the Grail in the finale. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas from a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Howling winds woke me up late on what was otherwise a lovely Christmas morning. I read short stories, poems, and sang carols from Colliers Harvest of Holidays, then went out into the living room to open my presents from Linda and James Young. The soft tubular gift was a warm knitted red and white hat with "snow" across the front. Opening the larger package revealed a new journal (I can always use more journals) and a real ink nib pen, complete with ink cartridges. My "stocking stuffer" was a set of LED bicycle lights for my bike wheels, to help with riding at night.

Ran one final holiday special while getting dressed and organizing the bags filled with gifts. The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas introduces Ted E Bear, a little fellow who is always curious about everything, but especially Christmas. Bears normally hibernate through December and don't really get to experience the holidays. Ted is determined to stay up and find out just what Christmas is, even if he has to make his way to the city to do it.

I ended up walking to Dad and Jodie's around 10. Not only was it too windy to ride the bike, but I had too much to carry. Despite the blustery blasts and the chilly air, I had a rather nice stroll. The neighborhood is bare now, the leaves gone from most of the trees, but houses are brightly decorated, and the few people out happily chatted with their neighbors or greeted relatives as they arrived.

Dad, Jodie, Jessa, Joe, and Dana were there when I got in. Rose arrived with her brood shortly after, followed by Vanessa and Mark, Jesse, TJ and his friend James, and Craig's parents. Dana made her decadent sausage bake. Jodie put out egg and bacon muffins, French toast casserole with homemade cranberry syrup, English muffins, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and a raspberry coffee cake. Craig's parents brought tiny sticky buns, a chocolate-walnut loaf cake, and a massive caramel cheesecake from Desserts by Design. I had two egg and bacon muffins, the casserole and syrup, orange juice, a small slice off coffee cake, a slice of the loaf cake, and a few sticky buns. Khai put on The Nightmare Before Christmas in the den; Dad had the 24-hour Christmas Story marathon going in the living room.

We finally unwrapped our gifts around 11:30. Yes, I got a new coat, a beautiful silver quilted coat with thick silvery fur trim from Jodie. Dad's gift to me was a nice CD player. It's a bit bigger than my old Emerson, with separate speakers and Bluetooth capabilities. They also gave me a new cake pan...that was much bigger than I needed. I traded it with Jessa and Joe, who had an 8-inch metal cake pan they didn't use (Jessa said they preferred their glass pan) but needed a new larger one. Dad also gave me 150 dollars in a lovely Santa Claus card. 

Everyone loved everything they got. My cookies and candy were much-praised. Rose said her silver earrings were perfect. Craig was my Secret Santa for the second year in a row. He just got me a Target gift card. Khai's favorite gift was a gigantic Nerf gun. It was so massive, it needed Dana and Jesse to put it together and half a pack of batteries. Finley ended up napping through a lot of brunch, though she did wake up in time to open her pop-roll elephant from me. 

Most people were starting to clear out when Jessa, Joe, and I left around 12:30. They dropped me off at my place so Joe could get ready for work (Joe works at Lincoln Financial Stadium) and Jessa could put away their gifts. I got the CD player set up as soon as I walked in the door. It proved to be very easy to set up and plug in. I didn't even need to read the instructions. The main box fit where the old Emerson used to be. One speaker went next to the DVD player. The other was moved under the TV and CD player, next to the Wii. 

Spent the next few hours making the bed, listening to my Peggy Lee Christmas Carousel and one of my classic rock Christmas CDs, and texting and messaging a few folks. I thanked Linda Young for the gifts and wished Mom a "Merry Christmas." Mom was on her way to work at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, but she did wish me the best of the day.

Jessa picked me up around 3:30. We made it into the Cinemark at Sommerdale (the same one I went to see Beauty and the Beast at on my birthday) just as the previews were starting. It was the 3D showing (complete with glasses), which may be why it was busy, but not nearly as full as I figured it would be. We shared a big refill bucket of popcorn and cup of Coke (the latter in honor of Carrie Fisher, who loved Coke and was rarely seen without a bottle or can of Coke Zero by her side). 

I'm not going to give a really heavy plot description because of spoilers but...I loved The Last Jedi. I absolutely adored it. I think I may have liked it more than The Force Awakens. I like that it tried different things. I liked that it didn't go where you expected it to go. I loved the segment in the casino world Canto Bight that even many critics complained about. I loved what they did with Finn, Poe, and especially Rey. Rose Tico was a sweetheart, and a worthy addition to the roster of heroes. And while I still think he's a jerk and don't want him within five hundred thousand parsecs of Rey, I do like what Kylo Ren did to his boss. Maybe he'll be redeemed. Maybe he won't. But at least he's not bowing down to other people now. I thought the humor was hilarious in all the right places and even cried several times. 

I do have a few minor complaints. I wish we'd seen a lot more of a couple of characters, notably Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), Maz Kantana (Lupita Nyong'o), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), and TJ (Benicio Del Toro). I also really, really wish the movie were a lot shorter. Some of the battle scenes could have been tightened or eliminated, and while Canto Bight was fun, yeah, some of that could have been trimmed as well. There were also a couple of plot holes, including the whole Canto Bight scheme ending up not mattering that much in the long run. And I can sort of understand Mark Hamill's complaints about his role being a little off.

I think you probably already know if this is for you. I like it when the Star Wars universe probes its more shadowy corners. The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie of all time, period, and Revenge of the Sith is by far my favorite of the prequels. I'm also not a purist and am willing to try something different in my franchises. If you're looking for something lighter and softer or a total rehash of Empire, or you're a major purist, you likely won't get much more out of this than Hamill did. If you can handle the darker side of a galaxy far, far away and have time on your hands, hop on the Millennium Falcon and enjoy the ride. 

The concession stand at the Cinemark was selling Star Wars Funko Pop stuffed dolls. They had Last Jedi Rey and New Hope Luke on display. I thought they were so cute, I had to have them. I went up to one of the concessions with them...and happened to look over and see Jessa buying me Rey in the next register! Aww. I ended up buying Luke for a Christmas gift for myself and getting Rey from her.

The movie took so long, we almost literally flew out the door of the theater and were late getting to Mark and Vanessa's for dinner. They'd already started when we arrived. Thankfully, there was plenty of macaroni and cheese, pork tenderloin, sausage stuffing, and spinach salad with walnuts and goat cheese left. Vanessa's daughter Brittany made it all, and it was excellent. The mac and cheese in particular melted in my mouth. There was an apple tart for dessert. Brittany fussed that it was too flat; Vanessa explained she made it in too big of a pan. Flat or not, it was perfectly sweet and cinnamon-y, and very tasty with Haagen-Daaz vanilla ice cream.

I chatted with Mark in the dining room after dinner while Vanessa, Brittany, and Jessa messed around with Vanessa's new Alexa android from Amazon. They were watching the tail end of the Steelers-Texans game during dinner. After the Steelers mauled the Texans 34-6, NBC switched over to the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The live-action one was just starting as Jessa and I headed out.

We finished the night at Dad and Jodie's for the first half of the Eagles-Raiders game. They'd just gotten home from having dinner at Jodie's aunt's house and were chatting with their neighbor Sandy. Jodie washed off poor Luke, who got soda on him in Jessa's car (spilled during the dash to the car after the movie), and we told them about the movie and our own dinner. We finally got so fed up listening to Dad complain about how bad the Eagles were doing, we headed out around 9:30. (And while the Eagles didn't play great tonight, they did well enough in the second half to win 19-10 and get home-field advantage for the entire playoffs.)

And the previous two hectic days at work aside, this has been the nicest holiday season I've had in years, up to and including Christmas Day. I hope all of you had just as much fun today and on whatever holiday you celebrate!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime

Started off a cloudy Christmas morning with the last chapter of A Christmas Carol and two American Girl holiday stories. In the Civil War-set Addy's Surprise, Addy Walker is trying to earn enough money to buy her mama a nice scarf for Christmas. She also wants all her family to escape from slavery to freedom for the holidays. But freedom has a cost, as the pastor at her church reminds her. Though she and her mother give up their money to the church to help newly freed slaves, they still get some wonderful gifts on Christmas Day.

Depression-era girl Kit Kitteredge is also facing a difficult holiday in Kit's Surprise. Her father is out of work, and even though her family's boarding house is doing well, they're still short on money. She takes a job caring for her grouchy Uncle Hendrick to earn the cash for their electric bill and spends all her time dealing with him. On top of that, she gets into an argument with her best friend Ruthie over make-believe and Ruthie offering to pay for their after-Christmas outing. It takes Kit creating a special gift for Ruthie to make her understand the healing power of faith and imagination.

Did Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas as I made coconut pancakes for a special Christmas Eve treat. This sweet direct-to-DVD anthology features three holiday stories showcasing the regular Disney characters, two based after classic Christmas short stories. Huey, Dewey, and Louie wishes it was Christmas every day in "Donald Duck: Stuck On Christmas." They instantly regret their decision when they're constantly repeating the day over again...until they finally change things for the good and learn how much their family means to them. Goofy sets out to prove to his son Max that Santa is real in "A Very Goofy Christmas." "Mickey and Minnie's Gift of the Magi" is based after one of the most popular O.Henry short stories. Mickey needs to make money to buy Minnie a Christmas gift. He sells what means the most to him to get it, but the two discover that the only thing they really need for a happy holiday is each other.

Headed off to work shortly after Once Upon a Christmas ended. Thankfully, it wasn't anywhere near the madness that yesterday was. It did get kind of crazy around noon. Otherwise, it was steady in the morning, dead from about 1:30 onwards. Probably just as well. Even with fewer baggers than planned (one called out, another quit), we still had more than enough help. We had so much extra help, I was outside with two other guys by the end of the night, even though there were no carts to gather and absolutely nothing to do. I have no idea why the managers sent us all outside. (And in fact, I point-blank told one of them to stop freaking out when they were fussing at me over checking the schedule to see if anyone else was coming in. I'm tired of the night managers picking on everyone, including me.)

The moment the clock switched to 5:55, I signed out, rushed home, changed, grabbed the candy for the party, and hurried back out to Dad and Jodie's house. They were still pretty full at 6:30. Khai and a bunch of the neighborhood kids were checking for rare Pokemon on Pokemon Go, playing with Dad's old toy train, and watching the live-action version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas on Freeform. Jodie was still putting out food. I barely walked in the door when she made me a roast beef sandwich. There were also turkey, ham, mussels in tomato-basil sauce (yum, I love mussels), macaroni salad, cucumber salad, Caesar salad,  potato salad, rolls, meatballs, shrimp cocktail with a very potent cocktail sauce that cleared my sinuses, and a cheese and pepperoni tray. (The crackers were already gone by the time I got there - I just sliced myself a chunk of brie.) Along with the sandwich and cheese, I had the mussels, a roll with butter, four meatballs, macaroni salad, the last of the Caesar salad, and tons of shrimp.

Dad and Khai's father Craig were watching the late football games with a couple of other guys in the living room. The best of them was probably the Jaguars-49ers game. Jacksonville apparently hadn't done well early-on, but woke up enough by the 4th quarter to make a comeback and win 44-33. The Seahawks did even better, knocking the Cowboys out of the playoffs with their 21-12 victory. After playing so well last week, the Giants got absolutely crushed by the Cardinals, 23-0.

Oh, and it sounds like I'll be going to Dad and Jodie's brunch around 10 tomorrow. Jessa and I will go to see The Last Jedi at 3, and will then go straight to Vanessa and Mark's to have dinner with them and Vanessa's daughter and Jessa's good friend Brittany.

Finally headed home around 7:30. It had started to rain sometime in the interim, a fine, misty rain that didn't do much more than make my knees and jacket a bit damp. I delivered a bag of cookies and a card to my friend Erica, who lives around the corner from Dad and Jodie, then rode around for a little while to look at lights in their neighborhood.

Spent the rest of a rainy night at home, watching holiday specials while chatting with Lauren online. Ran through A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, 'Twas the Night Before ChristmasA Garfield Christmas Special, Muppet Family Christmas, Mickey's Christmas Carol, The Small One, the Tom & Jerry Oscar-nominated short "The Night Before Christmas," and the original animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Ended the night with something a bit more unique. The Jimmy Stewart old-time radio show "The Six Shooter" had Stewart's character relating his own western spin on A Christmas Carol to a little boy. Scrooge is a stingy old ranch owner, Bob Cratchit is his head foreman, Nephew Fred owns a livery stable, and Scrooge's fiancee is a schoolmarm. Ultimately, the story teaches both the boy and his crotchety old aunt a lesson in the Christmas spirit.

And here's hoping that your holiday is equally merry (and a lot drier)! As Jiminy Cricket said on A Disney Channel Christmas yesterday, from all of us to all of you, Merry Christmas, and the very happiest of holiday seasons!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas Is Waiting

It was raining when I got up this morning. By the time I was eating breakfast, the rain had taken a temporary leave of absence, and it was just cloudy and a little chilly. Put on Bugs Bunny's Christmas Tales to cheer up the gloomy morning. Bugs narrates the between segments of this three-story anthology. The first is a condensed Christmas Carol, with Bugs as Nephew Fred, Yosemite Sam as Scrooge, Porky as Bob Cratchit, and Tweety as Tiny Tim. Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner take their usual antics into the snow-covered mountains in the second story. Bugs also appears in the third, dealing with the Tasmanian Devil in a Santa suit tearing apart his house.

Did the first Happy Days holiday episode while cleaning up from breakfast. "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas?" Fonzie, whom Richie invites over for Christmas Eve when he realizes his leather jacket-clad friend is all alone for the holiday. Mr. Cunningham insists that Christmas Eve be for family only, but his wife and children get just as much enjoyment from sharing their holiday with Fonzie.

Had enough time for a couple of animated holiday shorts while getting ready for work. "Seasons Greetinks" was Popeye's only Christmas short. He takes Olive skating on Christmas Day, but they end up on thin ice when Bluto goes after Olive. We have a similar situation in "I-Ski-You-Ski-Love-Ski," but this time, Olive and Popeye are mountain climbing when Bluto goes after them.

"Mickey's Orphans" was Disney's first Christmas short, and their first Oscar nominee. Mickey and Minnie take in a basket of adorable kittens on Christmas Eve. They try to show them a nice holiday, but those kitties look a lot less cute when they nearly destroy their house.

Work wasn't too bad when I arrived around 10, enough that I was able to get the bathrooms done first and work on unloading boxes of cards in the gift card kiosk. By the time folks were getting off for lunch, it was bedlam. Even with every register open, the lines were still long. I spent five long hours bagging and rounding up cold items. I did go outside to help with cards for about a half-hour, but they really had plenty of help with that today. The bagging got so crazy, and I got so stressed, I rushed over to the bathroom at one point, just to get away from the crowds. I returned to the gift card kiosk to finish out the boxes about a half-hour after my second break.

As soon as I was finished, I grabbed cooking spray (which I forgot to get yesterday) and a pretzel for a snack and hurried home. After I changed, I put on the last of the peas and tuna for dinner. Cut the fudge with a small, sharp knife after I ate. The fudge was a bit crumbly....but did it taste good! It was perfect, sweet and rich and oh so chocolate-y. I guess some things really are better the second time around. It'll be my special surprise for Jodie and Dad's party tomorrow. (That first batch might make a nice gingerbread-spice dipping sauce for fruit when Dad and Jodie visit next week.)

Ran The Toy Story That Time Forgot while I ate dinner. Trixie, Bonnie's sweet-natured triceratops, is the focus of this semi-holiday special. Trixie loves her human, but she wishes she'd actually have her play a dinosaur, instead of everything from a fairy to a reindeer. A few days after Christmas, Bonnie and a couple of her toys visit a friend of hers for a play date. While Bonnie and her guy friend play his cool new virtual video game, her toys are introduced to the Battlesaurs, a He-Man-like group of action figures who think their elaborate barbarian world is real. Turns out Bonnie's friend has been so into his video game, he hasn't played with them yet. Trixie has to convince them that they're toys, and that being toys isn't a bad thing, before they toss Buzz, Woody, Rex, and a tiny bear angel into a pit!

Moved on to The Bernstein Bears' Christmas Tree while I finished with the fudge and cleaned up from dinner. Like Clark Grizwauld, Papa Bear is determined to chop down his own special Christmas tree. Every tree he and the cubs turn up is home to some animal or the other. They finally return home in a blizzard, only to discover that the local lot has closed. The cubs are disappointed, but they have a big surprise waiting for them at their family's tree house!

Did A Disney Channel Christmas after getting out of the (much warmer this time, thank goodness) shower. This was the Disney Channel's big holiday special for years, a blending of two earlier Disney holiday shows, Jiminy Cricket's Christmas from the 50's and 60's and A Disney Christmas Gift from the 70's. Jiminy hosts this series of snow or Christmas-related shorts and segments from older Disney films that involve snow, parties, or giving. This was the first place I ever saw one of my favorite Mickey Mouse shorts, the touching black-and-white tale "Mickey's Good Deed." I also like "The Clock Watcher" and "Donald's Snow Fight" with Donald Duck and the classic Goofy how-to short "The Art of Skiing." (But my favorite moment is the finale, when Jiminy sings "When You Wish Upon a Star" with all the Disney characters of the time surrounding him. I still get a lump in my throat at that.)

Finished the night with the only holiday and hour-long episode of Remember WENN, "Christmas In the Airwaves." The staff of Pittsburgh radio station WENN is ready to celebrate Christmas 1940 with lots of mistletoe, holly, and yuletide programming. The arrival of their owner, a singer who is grieving for her husband, and her miserly financier puts a damper on their holiday. They insist that there is to be no reference to Christmas at the station, not in the shows or in the studios themselves. The staff finally bands together to get around the financier's rules and help the singer realize that her husband is still very much in her heart, and Christmas is the perfect time to let your heart start to heal.

Here's some other lesser-known holiday specials, for anyone looking for even more Christmas joy:

A Very Pink Christmas
The Teddy Bears Christmas
Annabelle's Wish
A Cosmic Christmas
The He-Man-She-Ra Christmas Special 
Little Women (anime) - "Christmas Eve"
Strawberry Shortcake (2003) - "Merry Berry Christmas"
The Christmas Tree Train
Raggedy Ann & Andy In the Great Santa Claus Caper
Ziggy's Gift

Friday, December 22, 2017

Candy for the Holidays

Awoke early to a sunny, cold morning. Ran The Monkees while I ate breakfast. Their "Christmas Show" was mid-way through the second season, right as things started to get strange. The groovy rockers are expecting a gig, but find themselves babysitting a super-smart 12-year-old boy a few days before Christmas. The kid continually puts down their attempts at creating Christmas cheer...until Mike Nesmith figures out what it is he really wants.

The last baked item I had to do was the pumpkin bread for Jodie. She can put it out for the brunch on Christmas Day. I put it off until today because it's easy to make (one bowl, not too many ingredients, all gets thrown together) and we won't need it until Monday. It took a little longer to bake than I thought it would, but it came out perfectly when it was finally done, and it smell incredible while baking.

Ran a few remaining cartoons while I worked. Santa Bear's First Christmas was an adaptation of a book about a little polar bear who is separated from his family when he's trapped on an ice floe. He ends up living with a little girl and her grandfather in the woods. On Christmas Eve, just as the grandfather becomes very sick, they run out of firewood. The bear goes out to find some, but there seems to be no dry kindling anywhere. The bear is about to give up...until a jolly old man in red not only helps him, but encourages him to help others as well.

A Very Merry Cricket was the follow-up to A Cricket In Time's Square.  Tucker the Mouse and Harry the Cat lament that everyone in New York is moving so fast, they don't have the time to slow down and enjoy the spirit of the season. They head to Conneticut to pick up their buddy Chester the Cricket to play Christmas music, but have run-ins with local cats and dogs who aren't nearly as pleasant as Harry and Tucker. Even after they get back, no one on Times Square can hear the cricket over all the bustle. It takes a blackout to finally get New Yorkers to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the holidays.

Spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon writing. I revised the story once again. Jack Hux and Jill Phasma show up after having fallen down Mint Chocolate Hill. They claim they saw the sheep being taken into the Forest of No Return. The group takes the train to the edge of the spooky woods to see if the sheep are still there...but BB doesn't think Hux and Phasma are trustworthy...

Broke at 12:30 to get the bread and the few remaining items organized and have lunch. Watched my favorite Rankin-Bass special, The Year Without a Santa Claus, as I ate. Santa wakes up one morning feeling tired and sick. He thinks no one cares about him or Christmas anymore. Mrs. Claus sends two elves and a reindeer down to Earth to find some Christmas spirit. What she didn't count on was them landing in the Deep South...or ending up in the territory of the Miser Brothers, who control the weather and are perpetually bickering.

Work was steady when I got there, busy but not as bad as I thought it would be. Once again, I suspect a lot of people may have gone shopping earlier in the day. I spent the first half of my shift bagging, and the second doing returns and trash in the front of the store.

I'm not entirely thrilled with my schedule. On one hand, far more hours than I have been getting lately, Christmas Day and next Saturday off. However, that means I have no idea when I'm going to squeeze in laundry or return my library DVDs, not to mention writing. And I'm working 8 hours not only tomorrow, but Christmas Eve, too! At least four people went on vacation this week, and others wanted a lot of time off. I'll have to rush from work to Dad and Jodie's house. I'm not looking forward to that at all.

I was started after I finished. Walked over to Chick Fil'A for dinner. By the time I made it over there, it was past 6 PM, the dinner hour, and it was really busy over there. I was probably lucky to grab a booth near the play area. I enjoyed a quick chicken sandwich, frosted lemonade, and waffle fries while admiring their decorations. There was a tree trimmed with mottled black-and-white cow print ribbons and cute little stockings with the employees' names on them hung in a row over the counter.

Did a fairly quick grocery trip when I got back to the Acme. I grabbed one of those big packs that have everything you need to make fudge. I was hoping to give them a second shot after my first attempt never set. Restocked chocolate chips, oranges, apples, eggs, skim milk, canned chicken, yogurt, laundry detergent, and those Nutmeg & Cinnamon Triscuits. Broccoli and Honey Bunches of Oats were on good sales. Bought chips for Dad and Jodie to snack on when they (hopefully) visit next week.

As soon as I got home, I put everything away, then tried making fudge again. The Gingerbread Fudge never set. I tried boiling it yet again, but that did nothing. Finally gave up, loaded it into a container to use for later, and decided to give the mix a try. That did the trick. This time, it came out perfectly, chocolate-y and thick and rich. Moved the mint patties (which are still too soft) into another container, lined with parchment paper, in the hope that would help them.

(And the fudge is the very last thing I have to do for Christmas. I won't be making or baking anything else until after the holiday.)

Ran Very Merry Christmas Songs while I worked. This is a DVD expansion of the original Sing-a-Long Songs video my siblings and I had as kids in the late 80's-early 90's. Most of the additional material revolves around bits from the direct-to-DVD sequels; new songs include the Bing Crosby version of "White Christmas," as well as "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."

(Here's the original VHS version my family owned for years. We used to watch it right after we'd get home on the last day before Christmas break. Dancing along relieved quite a bit of pent-up energy.

The Original Very Merry Christmas Songs VHS)

Finished the night with The House Without a Christmas Tree. I normally watch this Christmas Day, but I'll be watching football that night instead. The year is 1946. All Addie Mills (Lisa Lucas) wants for Christmas is for her dad (Jason Robards) to break down and buy them a tree. They've never had one. Christmas trees remind him too much of the wife he does Addie. When Addie wins the class tree, her dad throws a fit, calling it charity. Grandma (Mildred Natwick) finally reminds Addie that real charity begins at home...and that it's never too late for a heart to start to heal.

Touching, gentle story of a father and a daughter having a hard time connecting, and how they finally manage to get through to one another. I love all the details in Addie's world, from her ongoing feud with the boy she may have a crush on to she and her best friend Carla Mae hanging out at Addie's house together. If you're looking for a low-key movie for Christmas Eve or Christmas  Day, especially for older grade-school girls, this one is worth checking out.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Perfect Winter Day

Began my morning quietly with breakfast and The Small One. Don Bluth's last project for Disney before breaking out on his own was the touching tale of a little boy who has to sell his beloved but aging little donkey in a local city. No one takes them seriously, either making fun of them or barely looking at the poor animal...until they encounter a kind man named Joseph, who needs a gentle donkey to take his wife to Bethlehem.

Spent most of the rest of the morning and early afternoon writing. BB is happy to see Rey Quite Contrary and Poe the Piper's Son and their friends getting along so well. They even take part in a huge dance number in the Toyland Town Square. The number ends, however, with the arrival of the police and Jack Hux and Jill Phasma, who insist that they saw Poe the Piper's Son stealing Kaydel Bo Peep's sheep! The police admit they found wool and lamb sausage in Poe's house, too.

Broke a little early for lunch at 12:30 so I could get the cupcakes together. Half of them are going downstairs for Charlie and his men. The other half are Dad-Bruce's Christmas present. Ran Kung Fu Panda Holiday while I got organized. Po is looking forward to the Winter Fest, the big winter festival in their town. Every year, he and his dad make noodles for all their family and many people in the town. His holiday is thrown into chaos when Shi-Fu reveals that the Dragon Warrior is to host a huge, elegant dinner for all the martial arts masters in China on the same night. Poe does what he thinks is his duty, but trying to be elegant only makes a mess and upsets a bunny chef whose reputation he accidentally harms. He finally discovers why the winter holidays bring people closer together, no matter who they are or what they do.

In honor of the first day of winter, I ran animated shorts from various sets about snow, winter, and winter activities while eating lunch and getting ready for work. "Snow Foolin'" is from Paramount's Famous Studios and is one of their Screen Songs sing-a-long shorts. Animals have fun in the snow before singing along to "Jingle Bells." No clue where "The Snow Man" originally came from, but it looks like it dates to at least the 30's. A group of Inuit and Arctic animals build what they think is a snowman, but turns out to be a genuine yeti. They have to melt him to get rid of him. "Arctic Antics," one of Disney's earlier Silly Symphonies, and "Winter," one of their last black-and-white ones, are basically animals dancing and singing in the snow. ("Arctic Antics" does feature a cute sequence with penguins dancing to "March of the Toy Soldiers.") Tweety gets into "Puddy Tat Trouble" when he has to dodge not only Sylvester but a second cat on a snowy day in the city.

Work was surprisingly quiet for so close to Christmas. I guess everyone's waiting for the weekend. Besides, it was too nice to be shopping. The day was sunny, windless, and chilly but not out of line for the time of year, probably in the mid to upper 40's. I was more than happy to spend the first half of my shift rounding up carts and doing the trash, and the second doing returns. Grabbed sugar (brown and white) on my way home.

Finished out "Puddy Tat Trouble," then did a couple more winter and Christmas-themed cartoons while eating leftovers for dinner. "Chip n' Dale" named the two mischievous chipmunks who forever bedevil Donald and Pluto. Here, Donald has chopped their home down to fuel his fire. They just want their home and nut supply back. They're also after Donald's nuts in the Oscar-nominated "Toy Tinkers." The duo get into Donald's house on Christmas Eve and try to snitch his goodies. Donald's attempt to get rid of them turns into an all-out holiday war.

Tried to take a shower after dinner, but...brrrr! The water was freezing, and it refused to get warmer. I finally gave up and just took a very cold shower.

Ended the night with Scrooge. This musical version from 1969 features Albert Finney as the title miser and Sir Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley. I've kind of grown fond of the music from this one over the years since I picked up the soundtrack. "Thank You Very Much" was the sole hit, but I also like "December the 25th" for Fezziwig and the chorus and "Christmas Children" for Bob Cratchit and his brood as they do their Christmas shopping. I have no idea why they felt the need to extend the Future segment to actually end up in hell. (This is the only version besides Mickey's Christmas Carol I've seen even attempt this.) Otherwise, if you're a fan of Finney or Leslie Bricusse (who wrote the music for this one as well as the screenplay), the music alone makes this worth catching. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Yes, Ernest, There Is a Santa Claus

Began a cloudy, chilly morning with breakfast and more holiday sitcom episodes. The early 80's family comedy Silver Spoons did two Christmas episodes. I went with the one from the first season, "The Best Christmas Ever." Ricky Stratton is looking forward to spending his first Christmas Eve with his wealthy dad Edward. When a young boy asks to do chores to earn money, Ricky thinks nothing of it...until the kid goes back and takes some of their food. Turns out the kid's family has been living in a cave since his dad lost his job. Ricky and Edward to their best to make their Christmas happier.

Headed out to the laundromat as soon as I finished eating to get that done. I had a big load too, likely my last load before Christmas, so it's a good thing they weren't that busy. I saw two people the whole time. I worked on story notes and half-listened to Rachel Ray and The View.

As soon as I got home, I put everything away, then made Gingerbread Fudge. This was pretty much your standard evaporated milk/butter/marshmallow recipe with spices and a little bit of molasses added instead of chocolate or vanilla. It came out really, really sticky. I hope it'll be fine after it firms up overnight. At least I didn't burn it, like Amanda and I did the last time I attempted fudge with her in college.

Ran Ernest Saves Christmas while working, and later as I ate lunch. Here, Ernest is a cab driver in Orlando, Florida with an unusual customer - a man who claims he's Santa Claus. Santa is evidently in town to ask a former kid's show host to become his replacement. If he doesn't take over, the magic of Christmas will die forever! Meanwhile, Ernest encounters a selfish teen runaway who keeps lying at every opportunity and even steals Santa's sack. Ernest himself is tasked with bringing Santa's reindeer downtown. While he and a couple of elves try flying the sleigh, everyone learns a bit about Christmas miracles...and believing in Christmas magic.

Another long-time family guilty pleasure. This used to show up a lot during the holidays in the late 80's-early 90's on cable. If you're interested, it's one of the best of the long-running series of slapstick comedies featuring Ernest.

Spent the rest of the afternoon working on writing. Rosie Grumio, Poe the Piper's Son, and BB wind up all the life-sized toy soldiers in the storage room that Rosie was working on. They help the workers in the factory chase the Knights of Ren out. Mother Leia Goose tells Sir Kylo Ren to report to Barnaby that she'll never marry him or sell the factory. Rey refuses to court Kylo, either.

They all head off to Simple Simon's pie shop afterwards for a snack. Mother Goose tells BB how badly she misses her husband, Han Shaftoe, a sailor who went down with his ship, and her son Ben Boy Blue. Simon turns out to be Simon Mitaka, a mousy little man who sells Sugar Plum Pie. BB is about to enjoy her snack when there's a commotion in the square...

Broke at 5, mainly because I'd sat for so long, my legs were cramping. Did a mildly holiday-themed episode of Get Smart while making Coconut-Banana-Triple Chip Muffins for later this week. Max is "Our Man In Toyland" when he hits a department store that's been suspected of carrying merchandise with secret codes in them. 99 was undercover as a saleswoman and discovered where the messages are hidden. Unfortunately, Herr Bunny, the CHAOS agent in charge of the store, has figured out their cover and has them surrounded. Max and 99 have to get out of Toyland alive, before Bunny can get the merchandise out of the store.

Ran two of the three winter and holiday-themed episodes on the Scooby Doo and the Snow Creatures DVD. (I already have the third, "That's Snow Ghost.") "There's No Creature Like Snow Creature" from What's New, Scooby Doo? takes the kids to a local resort that's hosting a huge snowboarding contest. A terrifying creature seemingly made of ice has been attacking contestants, giving them injuries that'll take them out of the running. When Fred finds himself among its victims and Velma comes down with a cold, it's up to Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby to figure out what's going on with this cold monster.

The special "A Scooby Doo Christmas" has the gang stranded in the small town of Willow Hollow on their way to a relative's condo for Christmas Eve. Seems the town has been attacked by the ghost of a gold rustler who has returned as a nine-foot snowman every Christmas since his death. The gang has to figure out what he's after...and how to bring the holidays to the troubled town.

Ended the night with Miracle On 34th Street. We move from warm Orlando to chilly New York City for another tale of faith and believing in Santa. Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is the best Santa Macy's ever had. He's even gotten the owners of Macy's and Gimbles to form a temporary truce. There's just one problem. He keeps insisting he's the real Santa Claus. This deeply worries store assistant Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara). She's raising her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) to not believe in any kind of fantasy, including Santa, after her own bitter divorce. Kris, however, is just so real, he gets Susie almost believing. At least, until the supercilious store psychiatrist insists Kris is insane. A lawyer who took Kris in accepts his case. Most of New York's judicial system thinks they're both crazy, but he's determined to prove that Kris is the actual deal...and show Doris, Susan, and all of New York that a little bit of fantasy and faith are never bad things.

One of three major holiday movies to come out in 1946-1947, and the only one that was a hit at the time. Edmund Gwenn won a Supporting Actor Oscar as Kris; I believe the screenplay won as well. There were remakes on TV in the 50's and 70's and on the big screen in 1994. I haven't seen any of them, but the original is the perfect blend of sweetness and cynicism, and is probably the only version you really need.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Light Up the Holidays

Started off a sunny, windy day with breakfast and one of the two holiday episodes of Laverne & Shirley. "Oh Hear the Angel Voices" from the second season has Carmine recruiting the girls, Lenny and Squiggy, Mrs. Babish, and Mr. DiFazio to perform at a mental hospital on Christmas Eve. Shirley's terrified. She's heard a few too many family stories about relatives who were tossed in loony bins. Laverne's too busy flirting with one of the patients to worry much.

Thought I'd try something different for Jodie and Dad's Christmas Eve party this year. I enjoyed making coconut fondant patties so much during the summer, I thought I'd do them for the family for Christmas. Added mint and vanilla extract instead of almond this time and coated them in melted chocolate chips. Coating them took a while. I had to freeze the fondant until firm, then figure out how to dip them into the chocolate. I got the hang of it after a while, but the first batch was sort of messy.

Watched National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation as I worked on the candy. Clark Grizwauld (Chevy Chase) is looking forward to the best Christmas ever, with a huge tree, a big bonus from work, and all the family together for Christmas dinner. As usual, what Clark imagines and what actually happens are two entirely different things. His dream tree is bigger than his house, never mind his living room. The two sets of grandparents he invited for the holidays do nothing but bicker. The yuppies next door think he's off his rocker. His boss (Brian Doyle Murphy) refuses to hand out bonuses. He has so many lights on his house, he shuts down the neighborhood power grid. And then his hillbilly cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) arrives with his family and causes even more chaos. Christmas Eve turns into one disaster after another, until Clark finally snaps. After the SWAT team comes through the windows and the squirrel exits the house, Clark finally figures out that no holiday is perfect...but even the worst holiday calamities can create lasting memories.

One of the most popular holiday comedies of the last 30 years along with A Christmas Story, this is another old favorite that used to show up on cable a lot in the 90's. Mild slapstick violence and scatological humor makes this for older kids who will be going on their own Christmas breaks this weekend and adults who have probably been through a lot of what Clark does here.

Headed out as soon as the movie ended, around noon. I had a ton of things I wanted to get done today, starting with lunch at Phillies Phatties. There were a couple of people eating cheese steaks and watching sportscasters on ESPN discuss basketball and football. I had a slice of cheese, a slice of broccoli, and a can of Sparkling Mountain Dew Lemonade (which was just as deliciously crisp as the Raspberry Lemonade) and contemplated which football teams have the best chance of joining the Eagles in the playoffs.

Next stop on my list was the Oaklyn Library. They were unusually busy despite the nice day, with several people on the computers, a mother doing paperwork at a table, and her toddler daughter playing with the wooden train tracks in the kids' area. I organized DVDs and had a sweet chat with the little girl about the train tracks and what she wanted to do with them.

After I left the library, I headed across the White Horse Pike to the Oaklyn Post Office. I had to send off Mom and Anny's packages. To my surprise, the post office wasn't busy at all. There was one other person in line, and both lines were open. Got my packages out with no trouble.

It was such a nice day, I took my bike across Newton Lake Park to Westmont. I'm surprised I only saw two people out for a stroll and several flocks of Canadian geese and ducks looking for a late lunch. Maybe it was because it was quarter of 2, and most people were probably at school or work. Their loss. The weather was gorgeous, if warm for this year, sunny, windy, and probably in the mid-to-upper 50's. I was fine in a heavy sweater.

The Haddon Township Library was a lot less busy than the Oaklyn Library had been. There were a few people on the computer, and that was it. Everyone must be waiting until they're on Christmas vacation to take out DVDs and books. The shelves were so stuffed full of DVDs, they were jammed in until they couldn't move. I thinned them out and put away adult titles. (A lot of the kids' titles couldn't fit in the spinning racks!)

I still have plenty of movies to watch for Christmas this week, but I did take out a few animated discs. I found holiday shows for Toy Story, The Cat In the Hat Knows a Lot About That, and Kung Fu Panda, along with a Scooby Doo set that included two snow-themed episodes and one of their Christmas specials.

Stopped at WaWa on the way home. I was really thirsty. Grabbed a Blackberry Sparkling Ice. Fortunately, they weren't that bad, either. Despite it being almost rush hour, the line moved quickly.

Worked on writing when I got home. As soon as Barnaby leaves, the Knights of Ren arrive, lead by the evil Black Knight Sir Kylo Ren. They want to destroy the machines in the factory! Poe has a way to head them off. He takes Rey, Finn, and BB to the factory's storage room. They encounter Rosie Grumio, the factory repair woman. She's fixing a fleet of remote control airplanes and sets of life-size toy soldiers. Poe and Rey think they could use them against the knights, and so does BB...

Broke at 6 for dinner and to get the candy (which had been on cookie trays in the freezer) organized. Made a tasty catfish fillet and leftover green beans while watching The Cat In the Hat Knows a Lot About That Christmas special. Ralph the baby reindeer got off at Nick and Sally's back yard by mistake when the Cat drops them off after his big Christmas Eve party. The Cat, the kids, and the fish want to get Ralph home to Freeze-Your-Knees Snowland, but the Thing-a-Ma-Jigger keeps breaking down. While they repair it, the Cat and his crew learn about how elephants, dolphins, and crabs travel, as well as reindeer and how they live.

It was such a lovely night, I went out for a walk after the cartoon ended. I usually stroll around the neighborhood and look at lights in mid-December, by which time most people have put up theirs. The weather was too cold and nasty for me to do it last week, but this warm evening was the perfect time. I love how festive most homes in Oaklyn get! Some houses had a rainbow of colors wrapped around their porch columns. Others outlined their houses with lights, making them look like gingerbread dwellings. Some only did the bushes, or projected sparkling green and red lights on the front of their homes. Less showy houses opted for electric candles or small Christmas light shapes in the windows. A few houses had projectors that showed Christmas symbols or snowflakes. While inflatables aren't as numerous or as large as they were in previous years, I did see Lightning McQueen, Hello Kitty in a pink snowsuit, Snoopy on his dog house, a tyrannosaurus holding a gift, and a massive set-up with Santa in a throne and an elf holding a "Free Photos" sign and four reindeer in a red "stable."

Rose and Craig have started doing lights. Their house looks really cute. They have red and white lights, with lit-up candy canes going down the walkway. Richard and Charlie finally hung the lights on the McHughs' house and the fence that keeps Charlie's dogs in.

Went straight in the shower as soon as I walked in the door. After I got out, I went online and opened up the box of gifts from Lauren that arrived this afternoon. She's such a wonderful best friend! I got an Our Generation (Target's 18-inch doll collection) swimsuit and beach cover-up, two American Girl short stories, the Julie mystery The Silver Guitar, Meet Rebecca, the highlights disc from Ragtime: The Musical, a clip with my name on it for my backpack, a cozy mystery about a woman who works at a Scottish book store, three boxes of hot cocoa her parents didn't want, and boxes of healthy snacks from an online company Lauren really likes. Her parents gave me 20 dollars in their cute snowman card. Lauren's card had a recipe for chocolate candy cane bark.

Ran It's a Wonderful Life as I put everything away and chatted with Lauren. George Bailey (James Stewart) thinks life has passed him by. He's lived in tiny Bedford Falls all his life, taking care of his family's savings and loan business, despite his repeated attempts to get away from it. After he accidentally loses money to keep them open, he almost attempts suicide, but ends up saving an old old fellow named Clarence (Henry Travers) instead. Clarence turns out to be George's guardian angel, tasked with trying to make him understand everything he's done for the town. He finally follows-up on George wishing he'd never been born. Now no one knows him, his beloved wife Mary (Donna Reed) runs away from him, and nasty old Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) has taken over the town. It takes nearly being attacked by his friends to make George understand what a wonderful life he really has.

This is one of my favorite Christmas movies. The first half is so funny and cozy. As wonderful as Stewart and Reed are as the leads, it's the supporting cast that really shines, including Travers as the naive angel and Beluah Bondi as George's mother.

I will admit that, as much as I enjoy it, it's not everyone's cup of Christmas tea. If you don't agree with Capra's pro-small-town sentiments, you may not get a lot of the movie. And there's the last 20 minutes, where George discovers what Bedford Falls would have been like without him. They were filmed like the dark mysteries in vogue in the late 40's, and it's very intense. I got so freaked out by that scene, I fast-forwarded through it for years.

Even with that caveat, I still highly recommend this as one of the most beloved of all holiday films, and just a nice, cozy watch for mid-late December.

Since I did It's a Wonderful Life, I had to follow it with It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special. Buster Bunny is trying to put on the big Toons holiday show, but it's sabotaged by a jealous and wheelchair-bound Montana Max. Buster nearly jumps off the edge of the film strip before wishing he'd never been on Tiny Toons. A strange rabbit named Harvey shows Buster what would happen if he got his wish...and just how important his friends are to him. (Look for all the references to Wonderful Life and other classic holiday programming, including the recreated segment from the movie Babs watches at one point.)

Monday, December 18, 2017

It Feels Like Christmas

Rushed right into baking as soon as I finished breakfast. With Christmas a week away, there's still a few things I need to get done. After the mess I made with the Peppermint Cupcakes last year, I decided to try something simpler. The red velvet cake mix I bought from Dollar General a few weeks ago became Red Velvet Cupcakes. Other than I replaced part of the water with buttermilk for a richer taste, I stuck to the instructions on the back of the box.

Since those didn't take long to do, I got the boxes for Mom and Anny together to send out tomorrow. I was able to do everything but the birthday card for Anny's son Collyn (which was last week). That would have to wait until I got money for him after work. I did get Mom's box taped and organized Anny's box.

Ran The Muppet Christmas Carol as I worked. The first Muppet movie released after Jim Henson's death is a sweet and very funny take on the classic story. Michael Caine is Scrooge, Kermit is Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy is his wife, Fozzie is Fezziwig, Robin is Tiny Tim, Statler and Waldorf are the Marley brothers, Gonzo narrates the story as a blue Charles Dickens, and Rizzo is basically there for comic relief. My favorite part of this is some nice music, including "One More Sleep 'Til Christmas" for Kermit and "It Feels Like Christmas" for the Ghost of Christmas Present, and a couple of very funny moments for Gonzo and Rizzo.

If you're a Muppet fan or are looking for a good family or musical version of A Christmas Carol, this is definitely worth checking out.

Did some writing after the movie ended. Barnaby Snoke is ugly and wrinkled. He's after the factory to turn it into a training facility for the Knights of Ren, his bodyguards. He cares nothing about Christmas, the people he's putting out of work, or the toys that need to be made for Santa. Luke the Toymaker tries to remind him of how important his job is, but he insists that his old-fashioned toys are irrelevant in the 1980's. Everyone's standing up for him when they hear crashing and smashing in the main factory floor area...

Broke at 1:30 to frost the cupcakes, then have leftovers for lunch. Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas is a less traditional Muppet holiday tale. Emmett and his ma are facing a bare Christmas, until they find out about a talent contest in the near-by town on Christmas Eve. They both have to sell or break things that allow them to make their livelihood to enter. Emmett joins the titular jug band; Ma sings a ballad on her own. While they both do well, they're not impressive enough to get past a flashy local rock band. They finally discover their own niche while walking home...and that life is all about taking a chance.

Had time for a quick Christmas short as I got ready for work. Sylvester thinks Tweety is "Gift Wrapped" just for him, but he's really for Granny. She has to spend her holiday keeping Tweety out of Sylvester's mouth, and Sylvester away from her new dog.

Other than doing trash inside and out and gathering baskets, I spent almost my entire evening rounding up carts. I had no problems with that. While an employee did mention we'd been busy earlier in the day, by early evening, it was mildly steady. It died so much by the time night fell, as soon as the evening bagger arrived, I let him do the few remaining carts and concentrated on the trash. Grabbed money for Collyn's birthday and a vanilla creme doughnut for a special treat on the way out.

As soon as I got home and changed, I finished organizing and taping Anny's box. Since I did The Little Drummer Boy the other day, I thought I'd do its follow-up, The Little Drummer Boy Book II, while working tonight. Little Arabic drummer Aaron and his menagerie help an old bell-maker and one of the three kings retrieve a set of silver bells intended to herald the birth of Jesus from greedy Roman tax collectors. They do manage to get the bells back, but the price is high for Aaron...

Ended the night with The Owl and the Pussycat as I went online. Doris (Barbara Streisand), an actress and part-time prostitute, lives next-door to Felix (George Segal), who wants to be a writer. She hates all the typing he does. He hates the noisy clients who show up at her door. The landlord finally gets so fed up with their bickering, he throws them out. They end up at the apartment of a friend of his (Robert Klein)...but he gets so annoyed, he leaves. The two decide to make a go of things...and gradually begin to learn that they might not know as much about each other as they think, including their real names.

Maybe it's because I'm not a fan of romantic comedy, but I found this claustrophobic, shrill, and a little dull. No wonder everyone keeps kicking these two out. They're both annoying. A lot of this might have been avoided if they'd been more honest with each other from the beginning. Not to mention, there's an awful lot of sex talk (or inferred sex) for a PG-rated movie.

If you're bigger fans of the leads or romantic comedy than I am, you might get more out of this. Really only recommended for those who are into the cast or genre.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Rumble at the New Meadowlands

Began a sort-of cloudy morning with pancakes for breakfast. Attempted apple-cinnamon again. Thankfully, I actually paid attention to them this time and added the egg. They came out beautifully, just hearty enough.

Listened to my soundtrack for John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together while I ate. I really wish the John Denver/Muppets holiday specials would show up somewhere. This soundtrack is still considered a classic, from the hilarious opening rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to Miss Piggy and a couple of Muppets really getting into "Christmas Is Coming." Denver's best solo moment is the touching "Noel: Christmas Eve 1913," on the famous incident of a holiday truce between British and German soldiers during World War I.

Had just enough time left to get a little bit of writing in. Poe takes them upstairs to meet the Toymaker and Barnaby Snoke. Barnaby Snoke is Snoke from the department store in a slick black suit and cape. The Toymaker is Luke Weston, wearing worker's clothes and looking weary. Snoke wants to buy the factory and destroy it. He thinks it'll be a better home for his Knights of Ren and their weapons. Luke just wants to make children happy.

Went right to work after I got off. Work was still really busy when I got in, but the game was just starting. By 2 PM, it had died so quickly, I could do outside trash and recycling with no trouble. While I would eventually do the inside trash as well, I spent most of the rest of the day outside rounding up carts...including the last ten minutes, by which time we were so dead, there wasn't really anything to gather. There was plenty of help, and other than I don't know why they sent me outside for those ten minutes, no trouble whatsoever.

The Eagles weren't as lucky. They played terribly in the first half, against a Giants squad that's even worse. It wasn't the fault of backup quarter back Nick Foles, who actually did quite well. The Eagles' defense just isn't that great. As usual, they came back in the second half, enough to finally win 34-29, despite some tense moments at the very end where the Giants kept trying to score. And not only did they win, but they now have the advantage of a first-round bye, or getting to skip the first week of playoffs and have an extra week of rest.

Headed to Dad and Jodie's after I picked up cream cheese icing for cupcakes and frozen vegetables that were on sale. While Jodie heated up tacos for me, I chatted with Jessa, her boyfriend Joe, and his kids. Jessa offered to take me to see a movie on Christmas Day, since Joe has to work (he works at Lincoln Financial Stadium and the Eagles play that evening). While I do really want to see The Greatest Showman with Hugh Jackman (PT Barnum musical starring Wolverine - and it's an original? I can get behind that,) I'm truly dying to see The Last Jedi. I don't care what the fans think. I want more Star Wars.

I finalized my Christmas Eve and Christmas Day plans with Dad and Jodie after everyone else left. Same deal as last year. I'll be going to their house on Christmas Eve for their big party, then back there the next morning for brunch with the family and to open presents. Jessa and I will hit the movies after we finish with them. Jodie and Dad also talked about visiting me sometime after Christmas next week to see my tree and chat. It's very rare that I have visitors, so I'd love that.

We switched back and forth between a couple of late games while we talked. We had high hopes for the Steelers-Patriots game. They're the best teams in the AFC, and no one wants the Patriots to go to the Super Bowl yet again. Though the Steelers played very well, they got out-run at the last minute and just barely lost 27-24. The Seahawks didn't do nearly as well against their West Coast rivals the Rams, who rammed them into the Pacific 42-7.

Came home and went into the shower. Enjoyed records for the rest of the evening after I got out, partly to drown out Charlie cursing loudly at one of his dogs for doing something naughty downstairs. Started with the Peter Pan kids' record Holly-Daze. These are four really cute Looney Tunes holiday tales, all with voices by Mel Blanc. Bugs becomes "Bugs the Red-Nosed Bunny" in the first story when Rudolph comes down with a cold. He and Daffy help Elmer cure his Santa "Claustrophobia" in the second. He thinks he is the big man in red. "Holly-Daze" has Bugs and Granny visiting the tiny desert town Holly and helping Yosemite Sam catch bank robbers. "'Twas a Sight Before Christmas" when Bugs' nephew Junior claims he doesn't believe in Santa Claus. Bugs interviews a couple of the other Toons to change his mind.

Ended the night with a short Peter Pan version of A Christmas Carol and a couple of Great Songs of Christmas records. As far as I can tell, this is a series of holiday collections Columbia put out during the 50's and 60's ala the True Value Hardware Happy Holidays sets. Most of the three records I listened to were instrumental numbers or opera singers (including Mahalia Jackson), but Mary Martin did a lovely "Silent Night," and Doris Day could be heard on "Toyland."

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Getting Ready for Christmas

Though it was cloudy when I rolled out of bed, by the time I was eating breakfast, the sun was coming out. I spent most of the morning getting my cookies organized. Most of the cookies going to various family groups were in small, festive bags from Dollar Tree. Instead of holding them down with tabs, I pulled the tabs off and tied them with curling ribbon. (I tried the tabs last year. They don't really hold the thin plastic bags down well.) A couple of groups had cookies in boxes I got at Target, mostly people who were getting cookies in the mail. The gifts, cards, and and cookies for Anny and her family and Mom and Dad went in the red BB-8 bag. All the remaining cookies and cards went in the Rudolph and Clarice bag.

Watched Christmas Eve on Sesame Street as I worked. The first of five (to date) Sesame Street holiday specials begins with Oscar the Grouch telling Big Bird and one of the kids that if Santa can't fit down those skinny New York chimneys, no one will get any presents! Big Bird recruits Kermit, Grover, and Snuffleupagus to help him find out how he does it. Meanwhile, Ernie and Bert sell the things that mean the most of them to get gifts for their best buddy, only to receive surprises in turn from Mr. Hooper. Cookie Monster tries to get in touch with Santa and tell him he wants cookies for Christmas, but he keeps eating the writing utensils.

Headed out around quarter of 12 to run errands, starting at the Oaklyn Library. They were relatively busy for them, with a mother reading to her child in the kids' area and several people on the computers. I mainly stuck to organizing DVDs.

I realized at the library that I'd forgotten to bring my wallet and coupons with me. Stopped back at my apartment to pick them up, then went back out again. It had turned into a beautiful and sunny, if windy, day. It was much warmer than it has been. Most of the roads were still slushy at 12:30, but were rapidly clearing, even as I headed towards the Acme. By the time I was heading home, half the snow was already gone, and the rest was on its way.

First order of business was dropping off my cookies for the Acme's Christmas Employee Luncheon. It was a much better lunch than eating at the fast food restaurants in the back of the mall. There were meatballs, sausage, shredded pork, collard greens, turkey, ham, Buffalo chicken dip, pasta salad, mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, and macaroni and cheese for lunch. A cherry cheesecake, bowl of bread pudding, bowl of mini-Snickers, and another plate of cookies and candy joined my cookies for dessert. I had turkey, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese on my first round, meatballs, pasta salad, deviled eggs, and more greens on the second, and bread pudding, Snickers, and cookies for dessert.

It's a good thing I switched my shopping to today. I would never have been able to get everything I needed in yesterday's crazy weather...and I needed a ton! Took advantage of sales and online coupons to grab conditioner, chocolate chips, peanut butter, tuna, and another bag of clementines. Needed condensed milk, cupcake papers, and marshmallow fluff for the candy recipes I hope to make later in the week. Restocked cream of mushroom soup, yogurt (for baking and lunch), skim milk, eggs, butter, chicken breasts, ground turkey, and apples. Escarole was relatively inexpensive compared to some other fresh vegetables - thought I'd have that this week.

Ran a couple of second season episodes of Perfect Strangers when I got home, and then as I made Cranberry Bread for my landlords and next-door neighbors. In "A Christmas Story," Balki and especially Larry are looking forward to spending Christmas with Larry's family in Wisconsin. Larry's devastated when a storm makes it impossible to get there, until Balki reminds him of what the holiday is really about.

It's "Snow Way to Treat a Lady" in a two-part tale when the duo head off for a skiing trip with their girlfriends Jennifer and Mary Anne. There's only one small problem. Larry is a terrible skier, but he's lied to Jennifer about being a champion skier to impress her. He ends up going the wrong way down a mountain, then gets them trapped in a cabin that's been buried under an avalanche. Larry and Balki attempt to dig their way out.

Spent the rest of the evening writing. Leia introduces BB to the massive Toy Factory and it's head foreman, Poe the Piper's Son. To BB's surprise, he looks a lot like her brother, right down to the glossy curls and charming smile. He's in charge of the factory's operations, but he's worried that they may not be able to meet Santa's deadline if they don't figure out how to make more toys by the next day. Plus, nasty Barnaby Snoke, who owns pretty much everything else in Toyland, is meeting with Toymaker Luke about possibly shutting the factory down and selling out to him.

Had leftovers for dinner around 6:30. Watched Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas as I ate. Set during Belle's time at the castle, she's hoping that holding a Christmas Eve celebration will make the Beast less gloomy. The Beast has his own reasons for not wanting to have Christmas, and he's determined to stick to them. The castle's organ (Tim Curry) wants the Beast to stay the way he is. As long as he's living in anger, he'll pay attention to him and his dreary songs. When the organ realizes Belle and her Christmas party is a threat, he convinces a piccolo (Paul Reubens) to help him turn the Beast against her.

I know most people aren't fond of the flood of direct-to-video movies Disney churned out in the 90's and early 2000's, but I consider this one to be a guilty pleasure of mine. While the animation isn't that great, the music is lovely, including the oft-reprised "As Long As There's Christmas."

Ended the night with The Bishop's Wife. The bishop (David Niven) is in charge of raising funds to build a massive cathedral. He's spending so much time buttering up older women like Mrs. Hamilton (Gladys Cooper), he's neglecting his sweet wife Julia (Loretta Young), his daughter Debbie (Karolyn Grimes), and their eccentric family friend Professor Wutheridge (Monty Wooley). When he prays for guidance, he gets the impossibly handsome angel Dudley. This spiritual figure proceeds to charm everyone around him, including Julia. When the bishop realizes his wife seems to be falling for Dudley, he finally realizes just how much she means to him.

Sweet tale of faith, enlivened by the glowing performances of its three stars. Grand makes an especially suave angel - check out his quick method of decorating Christmas trees!